Courtly Love and Romance

Is it possible that early rules for courtly love written down in the 12th century formed the basic characteristics for relationships that we have today?

Some experts certainly believe so.

There is evidence that the “Treatise on Love” written by Andreas Capellanus defined for the first time the intricate relationships between men and women. Capellanus’ work lays down the building blocks of romantic behavior in a sense.

Bet you didn’t know that the ideas and beliefs about love and romance we have today originated in Medieval courts of French, German and English knights and ladies, kings and queens.

Though some principles have changed somewhat over time, for the most part the fabric of courtly love has remained the same. The hearts of the characters in our romance books revolve around these rules. We see them used over and over in novels, movies, TV shows and even in music.

(But not only do our characters use the Rules of Courtly Love. We all use them in one way or another in our personal relationships whether we know it or not.)

The ideas that resonate are that good character is an essential quality of lovers. Heroes and heroines must be worthy of each other and their love must show it. They have an intense desire to impress and please each other. Sound familiar? We read stories about characters who practice this behavior. And we show these things in our personal relationships. They are timeless themes. True love cannot be bought. It comes from the heart out of grace and a selfless desire to please our mates. We ask nothing except that we are loved in return.

Capellanus believed, and I agree, that love taken by force isn’t love at all. He also felt that fidelity was the key to happiness and fulfillment. Men and women, and certainly characters in romance novels, are totally miserable as they work toward the relationships they want. They can’t sleep, eat, or keep their minds off their love interest. It consumes them.

Here are 10 of Capellanus’ 31 Rules of Love:

* He who does not feel jealousy is not capable of loving.

* No one can love two people at the same time.

* Whatever a lover takes against his lover’s will has no savor.

* It is unseemly to love anyone whom you would be ashamed to marry.

* A true lover does not desire the passionate embraces of anyone else but his beloved.

* Love easily obtained is of little value; difficulty in obtaining it makes it precious.

* On suddenly catching sight of his beloved, the heart of the lover begins to palpitate.

* A man tormented by the thought of love eats and sleeps very little.

* Love can deny nothing to love.

* A true lover is continually and without interruption obsessed by the image of his beloved.

* * * * * *

So, I’m just curious. Did men and women know these things long before Andreas Capellanus came along? I’m sure they must’ve. Afterall, Adam loved Eve with all his heart, even though she ate that durn apple. Maybe they just didn’t know how to put these thoughts into words. Maybe it took one man sitting down and really thinking about love and how it felt to express what others had in their hearts. When did the world not have any romance in it?

Do you find it strange that the rules written down centuries ago by some old geezer have such bearing on love and romance today? Or are we following the natural course of life as it was meant and shouldn’t examine it too closely? Or do you think romance in movies and novels is portrayed accurately?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

28 thoughts on “Courtly Love and Romance”

  1. HELLO Linda!!!!!!

    Very interesting blog and interesting questions as well!

    As I am a christian-I believe that the greatest,deepest and truest love began with the creation of man and not after! God obviously wanted to love us-that’s why he created us!

    I think love is born within us and is cultivated as we grow and have close relationships with our parents/caregivers. I believe children learn how to love from watching their parents love as well as the opposite of that-alot of children grow up in very disfunctional families and sometimes dont know what true love is….in these situations-hopefully they learn it eventually!

    I think love is never black and’s a very complicated and multi faceted emotion.

    While I think that love and relationships are overly romanticized in fiction (book or screen)-I think that people can and do love the same way that our H&H’s love in fiction!

    True love can be very haunting and agonizing….and it can be very sweet and pleasurable!

    I also think we have to love ourselves enough to let others love us-we have to feel worthy!

    All in all—love is the glue that holds our lives together-be it a familial love with our kids or parents or siblings…or a friendly love we share with our best friends or the romantic love we share with special someone!

  2. I don’t if I would take this man’s word on love, though some of his rules can be held true, but after going and looking him up, I discovered a few things that aren’t in those rules…

    He had ascribed to the belief of “age limits” on who is suited for love and even said that blindness was a sign of someone unsuitable for it because a blind man cannot see the thing which he loves and therefore cannot obsess on it- unless of course, the man fell in love before he was blind. LOL

    He also believed in rules of dialogue between class rankings of individuals and even goes so far as to imply that peasants didn’t love, they only copulated like animals and shouldn’t be taught how to love so it wouldn’t keep them from their duties. And that if someone (I’m assuming of upper class) fell for a peasant, that he should praise her immensely and then if the opportunity arose, he should just take what he wanted “by force.”

    He recommended people reject love based on religion, health (because copulation weakens the body, etc) and because women are awful. According the site I found with excerpts of his book, he ended the book on a woman-hating tirade.

    Yikes. (If you’d like the link to the excerpts, I’ll post it)

  3. Hi Linda!

    Amazing information — things I didn’t realize at all. It does seem as if we are still operating on these ideas that this man set forth.

    However, I might add that in Native America, these same concepts hold pretty much the same, yet they did’t have access to this man’s observations. Perhaps he set down in writing something that is fairly universal?

    Terrific information.

  4. Linda, what a great topic! As a romance writer and reader), I dern sure plan on puttin’ this info in my character development file in order to remind me what qualities real heroes and heroines possess when it comes to their heart. Very interesting subject. I only wish folks of today who are having relationship problems would be required to read this and remember why they fell in love in the first place.

    On a personal note, I apologize for not checking in with you all for a while, but my husband and I had the pleasure to have his 92 year old mother come live with us during the last three months she walked on this earth, so my focus was on my lovely mother-in-law. I’m back; and Linda and I are eagerly awaiting the release of our second anthology, “Give Me a Cowboy” about a Texas 1889 4th of July rodeo!

  5. Good morning Linda,
    Fascinating blog. I have to agree with most of his observations about love. I think, since love was thought of back then, then these love-isms, might be universally felt. Shakespeare came several hundred years later and he sure understood the complexities and at times, humor of love, didn’t he?

  6. Hi Melissa!

    You beat everyone this morning and was first to post. I agree with you that love has been around since the beginning of time. And it is the glue that holds families together. Without love we are nothing.

    Andreas Capellanus was the first to put into words a code of honor for men and women to observe when they fall in love. I think that’s kinda neat.

    Thanks as always for coming to blog! 🙂

  7. Hi Taryn Rae!

    Wow, I didn’t know this guy was such a bum! Looks like he didn’t practice what he preached. He broke all the rules he wrote down. You’re welcome to post the link to the excerpts.

    I still find it amazing that we use these rules when we write romance. The hero is miserable when he finds that certain someone. And no other woman interests him once he falls in love. The hero and heroine become obsessed in a way with each other and no one else will satisfy them.

    I know I felt the same way when I fell in love. I was thoroughly smitten and got that funny feeling in my stomach every time I was near him.

    Thanks for your comments and for being such an avid supporter of P&P!

  8. Hi Kay,

    I’m so glad you were able to post a comment. How are things in Florida?

    Yes, I think it’s amazing to have someone write down a code of love that people live by without giving it much thought. We just instinctively know how it feels to give your heart and soul to another person. We practice ethics and honor in our lives.

    I hope things are going well for you and that get to go home soon. Take care.

  9. Hi Phyliss!!

    Welcome back! We’re so glad to have you back in the fold. I’m sorry about the loss of your mother-in-law. It’s heartwrenching to watch them slip away. Bless your heart. I’m wishing you lots of comfort and peace. And you’re right, it is an honor to care for those we love and try to give them the best ending to their lives as possible.

    Glad you enjoyed the post today. It is something a romance writer should have handy when writing their stories. It’s helpful, even though as Taryn Rae discovered the man was a total louse.

    Hope you have a great day!

  10. Charlene,

    Yes, Shakespeare knew exactly how to put these rules of love to work! He showed exactly how complex love could be with irony and humor. This list of rules reflected what had already been taking place in relationships for ages. When you’re smitten, you’re pretty well deeply and hopelessly in love. Matters of the heart is mysterious and wonderful.

  11. Cheryl,

    The Song of Solomon is one of my favorite part of the Bible. You’re right, it is pretty sexy. And it shows how precious love is when it’s found.

    Good luck with your deadline!! 🙂

  12. Great stuff today, ladies. Although I truly believe in love at first sight, I think romance fiction tends to idealize (the true definition of romanticism) love and relationships. But that’s why I love them; I like feeling good after I finish a book.

    Unless they’re “chick” flicks, I don’t think modern movies do much (for me) in terms of romance. To me there’s just too much f-word and too many hookers. But then, I’m pretty old and out of it.

    Shakespeare does rock, though. That’s why his works survive all these centuries. Every time I see or read Romeo and Juliet, I keep on rootin’ for those kids even though I’ve known since I was twelve what happpens…

  13. I think a lot of lists and how to books are more an author trying to put into words something we all know.

    A lot of the books on writing seems to be more one authors attempt that. Actually more common sense than a true teaching book.
    So, no. I don’t think Capellanus was saying anything new. But, when it’s put into words in a lovely, understandable way, that’s got value in itself.

    Also if being in love makes you not eat much, I’ve got bad news for my husband. Poor guy.

  14. Hi Tanya,

    Yeah, I know what you mean about Romeo and Juliet. That was true love for sure.

    I agree that romance novels tend to romanticize the H/H relationship. But that’s why I love them. I have to have my happy ending and feel totally satisfied when I finish reading (or writing) a book. I want my characters to be totally in love and nothing can change that.

    In real life we have too many couples who fall “out” of love and the relationship ends horribly. I think that’s because they mostly don’t work hard enough to try to keep what they found in the beginning. Granted, I know many marriages shouldn’t have been in the first place. Lots of things go wrong and sometimes people marry for the wrong reasons. I can’t help but wish that everyone could stay in love. It’s the romantic in me. 🙂

  15. Hi Mary,

    As usual you made me laugh. But, I’m wondering how you felt when you first fell in love. Remember how it was? I know I didn’t eat or sleep very much. Didn’t seem that I needed that. All I could think about was the fact I was really the luckiest girl in the world to have found someone who made so happy. Love is the most wonderful feeling!

  16. Hey, Linda!

    Falling in love is pure instinct, I think. The brain is so powerful–yet what about those women who claim they love men who only abuse them at every turn?

    I remember the instant I first saw my husband and fell in love. Gosh, we were so young, and while I had my eye on another hunk in my class, I knew he would never be the one. Doug has – for 35 years!

    Hello, Phyliss!!! We missed you!

  17. Hi Linda, beautiful post. I like the photos! It’s so true about love making the world go round. It’s timeless and always has been, I think. Also why we believe we can write Westerns set 150 years ago and write so vividly in the hero or heroine’s POV.

  18. Hi Pam,

    Love has to be instinctual. I don’t think we have to examine why we fall in love, just accept it and be grateful. But as writers, it’s our job to show our characters falling in love so we have to really delve into how it feels. Sometimes it’s kinda hard to portray accurately something that’s clearly so instinctual. Before I became a writer I never used to think much about love. I just accepted it as a great gift.

    Congrats on finding the love of your life and that it’s lasted 35 years!! Yay!

  19. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for the compliment about the pictures. I love them and knew when I saw them they were what I wanted to show people clearly in love. There are kisses and then there are KISSES, the kind that make your toes curl up. 🙂

    Yes, you’re right about the reason we can write so vividly in our H/H’s point of view even though the story is set 150 years back. Love is and will always be timeless.

  20. I think love allows those who love us to see us through loving eyes so that we still look the way we think that we do. (I know that I am always amazed at how grey my husband has gotten when I see a picture of him.)

  21. Thanks for the welcome back, Cheryl, Pam, Linda and everyone else. I love P&P and it’ll take me three months to read all the archieves, and I want to digest each one, because I know I missed a ton of good advice and smiles. Hugs, Phyliss

  22. Hi Connie!

    The old saying is that Love is blind and there has to be some truth in that. You know, my husband used to say the same thing. He told me I looked the same as I did when we first met even though twenty three years had passed. And I never saw his graying hair either. He was the love of my life and I miss him so much.

  23. Fascinating blog, Linda. I like Capellanus’s (sp?)comments as far as they go. But for me they don’t go deep enough. It’s as if he’s talking more about infatuation–the obsessive thoughts, the jealousy, etc. Real love, the kind that sustains people through time and trials, goes much deeper than that. Just my thoughts.

  24. Interesting … and yet …

    Elizabeth Lane touched on my own immediate reaction after having read the 10 aspects of courtly love that were included here … and I would agree — they seem to be (IMO) symptoms of a crush, puppy love, infatuation, middle-school stuff — not long-haul, sustaining love between mature adults.

    Love — to me! — is all about comfort and security, i.e., sleeping well at night because you know you’re with the right person; never worrying that he’s cheating; pointing out beautiful women — because you’re secure enough in the love you share to NOT feel threatened. Just to name a few emotions I experience daily through my own deep love with my husband…

    All the same, VERY interesting … lots of material worthy of discussion and reflection.

    Thanks for sharing!


  25. As a man, I chuckled through your extraction of “lover’s rules.” Understand me, I’m not a playboy and stick to my woman, but there is no doubt in my mind those rules were written as a wish list by a woman, not by a man.

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